REVIEW BY JODI: SAUGATUCK SUMMER BY AMELIA C. GORMLEY

 

Title: Saugatuck Summer
Author: Amelia C. Gormley
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Rating: 5/5 Smooches
Blurb:
One summer
can change everything.
Hi, I’m
Topher Carlisle: twenty-one, pretty, and fabulous. At least, that’s what I keep
telling myself. But let’s get real. Walking the fake-it-til-you-make-it road to
independence and self-respect isn’t easy. Especially since my mom’s a deadbeat
alcoholic, and most of my family expects me to turn out just as worthless. Oh,
and I’m close to losing my college swimming scholarship, so let’s add “dropout”
to the list.
My BFF
has invited me to stay at her beach house on the shore of Lake Michigan.
That’ll give me one summer to make money and figure out what I want to do with
my life. So of course I decide to have an affair with my BFF’s married,
closeted dad. Because that always works out.
Now I’m
homeless, friendless, jobless. Worthless. Just like my family expects, right?
Except there’s this great guy, Jace, who sees it differently. He’s got it all
together in ways I can only dream of—he’s hot, creative, insightful,
understanding. He seems to think I don’t give myself enough credit. And if I
don’t watch out, I may start to believe him.
Review:
“Well, dumping your baggage on someone isn’t the same as letting
them in. Some people use candor as a shield. Best defense is a good offense,
right? You blurt it all out and then you wait for the inevitable revulsion when
the other person just walks away from it. The ones you really want to keep
around are the ones you hide the bad stuff from until you feel safe.”

Jace
Topher Carlisle is a fabulous. He also is an emotional mess,
although he doesn’t quite realize it. Thanks to the dysfunctional and cruel
adults in his life, Topher has been taken advantage of, treated poorly, abused
(mentally, physically and sexually) and made to feel inferior to others.
Constantly striving for acceptance and love, Topher makes some
not-so-good choices in his life. This summer he is looking for a break, and
instead of relaxing and getting himself together, he winds up having an affair
with his best friend’s father, alienating himself from his best friend, arguing
with his family, and ultimately, falling in love.
Amelia Gormley is a wonderful writer. This first person
narrative is engaging, beautifully written and heartbreaking. The fact that the
book is told from Topher’s perspective is welcome, intriguing and very
refreshing. The reader learns through internal dialogue and Topher’s conversations
with others how dysfunctional Topher’s family is and how much the young man
tries to break the cycle of enabling he has in his life: first with his mother
and then, to an extent, with Brendan Gardner.
Topher knows the relationship with Brendan is wrong. He knows it
is temporary. He knows he is risking ruining his relationship with his best
friend. When the inevitable happens and the relationship comes to an end, it is
the reaction from the older man that puts Topher over the edge thinking maybe
he really is worthless and doesn’t deserve to be happy.
Throughout the story, Topher’s vulnerability, immaturity and self-depreciation
are apparent. He seems to have some good ideas and plans, but it is clear he
lacks self-confidence.
I’ll
probably try to find a job around here to save up enough money to re-enroll
this fall, though I imagine most of the seasonal job openings have been taken
by now. It’ll need to be something that still lets me swim twice a day. My
scholarship isn’t a full ride, and between training and classes, I don’t know
if I can balance having a job during the school year, too, at least not without
my grades taking a nosedive. But the news about how people are struggling for
decades to pay off their student loans these days is pretty scary. I really
don’t want to go into debt if I don’t have to, you know?”
What I didn’t add was that most of that was my own fault. Well,
not really, but I blamed myself anyway. After the ordeal of my mom’s suicide
attempt midway through my freshman year, my chronic depression had gone into
overdrive, to the point where my meds weren’t working very well. Both my
academic and athletic performance had suffered, which was why I was now in
danger of losing my scholarship if I didn’t turn it around. So it wasn’t really
my fault, because I was sick, but there was always a portion of my brain
that adhered to my family’s insistence that I was lazy, and not applying
myself. I should just be able to make up my mind and get over it, right? I
wasn’t trying hard enough to be the person I should be, or to, you know, make
myself functional enough to drag my ass out of bed in the morning. Back in high
school, it had taken them forever to agree to me going on antidepressants in
the first place.
On the outside, Topher presents himself as being fabulous, but
he struggles with his self-esteem and accepting that he is not the loser his
relatives make him out to be. He is vulnerable, which makes him very
susceptible to Brendan’s advances, and in typical fashion, Topher blames
himself for the affair continuing.
Jace is a beacon of hope. Readers first meet Jace when Topher is
sunning on the beach. Jace strikes up a conversation, and the two men hook up
before the affair with Brendan begins. He invites Topher to a club to celebrate
Topher’s birthday.
The sex scene with Jace is hot and intense, and readers are not
sure whether his character is being genuine or sleazy when he asks Topher if he
can take photos of him before and after sex. And, that is the genius of
Gormely’s writing style. Since this book is written in first person point of
view, the reader only gets the story from Topher’s perspective. The reality of
the story unfolds for the reader through Topher’s eyes. Topher is leery of
Jace’s request, but he allows him to photograph him anyway.
The next day, when Brendan presents Topher with a special
homemade dinner and birthday cupcakes, the tables turn for Topher. After all,
Jace was just a one night stand, and Topher is grateful that Brendan – his best
friend’s straight and married father – cares about him. Topher connects with
Jace on a physical level and Brendan on an emotional one.
“You’re a bright, beautiful young man, Christopher Carlisle. And
it’s their loss they drove you away. But I’m glad you see that you deserve
better than that. Don’t give in on that, okay? Demand that people respect you,
no matter who you are or choose to be. You’re worth respecting.”
He slid his arm around my shoulders in one of those
halfhug/squeeze things. Platonic. Nothing inappropriate about it at all, except
for that teeny-tiny flare in the screwed-up wiring    of my brain that didn’t know how to respond to kindness from a
gorgeous man except with attraction. It wasn’t a come on. He wasn’t trying to
get into my pants and, truly, I didn’t want him to. He was just
comforting and encouraging me. Which was, frankly, better than his coming on to
me ever could be. So much better.
After a moment, I told that fucked-up part of my brain that
confused affection with lust to cool it and leaned against him, accepting what
he offered.
Until, of course, what Brendan is offering changes. Brendan
knows how vulnerable Topher is, and he cannot seem to stop himself from starting
a sexual relationship with the young man.
When Topher’s world seems to crash around him, Jace shows up
again. As the reader learns, there is a lot more depth to Jace then Topher
realized. The two men form a fast and intense bond, and through intimacy reveal
their pasts, their needs and their hopes for a positive future.  
But Topher has been hurt so much. He doesn’t feel that he
deserves Jace, and he doesn’t trust his feelings. Jace does not give up so
easily.
He pulled me down so that I rested with my head on his shoulder,
tucked under his chin. I could hear his heartbeat and feel the light stroking
of his fingertips against my scalp. The warmth of his arms around me was
amazing. Again, the only word I could come up with for it was protected.
Fuck, that word was terrifying. I didn’t try to throw him off and get away this
time, but it took an effort not to.
“I don’t know you all that well, but I know you’re an amazing
guy, Topher,” he whispered against my hair. I shook my head in denial, but he
wouldn’t stop. “Maybe you’re confused now. Maybe you make mistakes, and you’re
not sure where you’re going or what you’re doing, but you give off this vibe
that tells me … Well, I would bet anything I own that you’ve been through
things that would send most people into booze or drugs or cutting or suicide or
just being so sick and fucked up that they can’t function. Don’t you see,
angel?”
His arms tightened around me. “You’re still on your feet.
You may hate yourself for every little mistake you make, but the fact that
you’ve survived means you’ve come out on top. It might not be a perfect
victory, but those are really, really rare.
Every
day you stand up and face life again is a win.”
When Jace’s past is revealed through his conversations with
Topher, readers are treated to more of Gormley’s wonderful story weaving
abilities. Jace has had a challenging life, especially after his parents sent
him to conversion therapy after learning he was gay. Jace, who is a little
older than Topher, recognizes a kindred spirit in Topher.
Gormley is a phenomenal writer. This story is beautifully constructed,
and the themes running through it are realistic, and teeming with heartbreak,
angst and humor. It is wonderfully refreshing to read a book written from the
main character’s point of view, and for the reader to discover what makes the
characters’ tick as the narrator makes those same discoveries. This not-so-simplistic,
angst-filled plot is enhanced by Gormely’s wonderful character development, smooth
dialogue and descriptive prose.
Thank
you to Net Galley and Riptide Publishing for providing a review copy
of this
title in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

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